It’s rained quite a bit this summer and Pittsburgh, as representative of western Pennsylvania, has received 14 inches above normal rainfall for this time of the year. Local rivers were flooding (some extremely) yesterday morning and many Pittsburghers couldn’t make it to work. Few people were going fishing.
It put my plans on hold too – plans to drift a section of French Creek and sleep out under the stars. It would have been a very wet day and very wet night. And there’s more to come – a hurricane is poised to make an appearance late in the weekend ahead. What’s an outdoorsman to do?
I guess the simple answer is that he needs to learn to appreciate all of nature’s moods and seasons. These things that look like weather disasters to us serve purposes to the ecology of wild places and also open opportunities for the opportunist outdoorsman. Flooding has been happening here since the Wisconsin Glacier began getting too much sun thousands of years ago; the Pennsylvania forests, rivers, fish and wildlife aren’t worried about high water.
In our streams, flooding scrubs deep sediment deposits off the bedrock and cobble, sending it on its way to the Mississippi (here in Western PA). More types of aquatic insects do well on relatively clean stream bottoms than persist in mud. This includes most of the caddises, mayflies and stoneflies (they’re called stone flies for a reason). Flooding also picks up leaf and woody debris from floodplains and brings it into the stream corridor to feed the aquatic insects so valuable to our native fishes. High water is not as much an impediment to the fish either as we sometimes imagine. Fish who are waiting to transit upstream, in fact, wait for this flooding eagerly to reach spawning sites or optimal feeding sites. This includes the steelhead trout of Lake Erie and elsewhere, so loved by Pennsylvania’s sportsmen. The walleye like it too.
So, it’s up to us as intrepid sportsmen to seize the opportunity. I’m going to let out kind of a big secret here but one of my angling break-throughs here in Pennsylvania has been the discovery of the post-flood feeding binge. This applies to a wide array of species including trout, bass, walleye, and who-knows-what else. Perhaps my first inkling of this was many years ago following a flood in a small creek that drained directly into the Ohio River. The water was still murky and I tossed in a little fragment of worm hoping to snag a few baitfish. Instead, the rod bent double and an 18 inch smallmouth bass flopped at the end of the line, my biggest bass ever at that point. This was inspiring and kind of got me thinking about where else this pattern might occur.
I now know that this pattern occurs almost anywhere water flows. I suspect that predatory fish get hungry while waiting for the worst of the flooding to subside and go on kind of a feeding binge as soon as it starts to. Apart from this, places they want to access are still partially flooded, days after the flood crest. And you as an angler can wade around without much fear of spooking your quarry as long as the water stays dirty. In fact, in this light, flooding creates a perfect opportunity – something to look forward to.
It’s a way of looking at things that has broader applications, I think.